Bene-Elohim an expression which occurs only in Ge 6:2,4 (Heb. beney' ha- Elohim, בּנֵי הָאֵֹלהַי, sons of God; Sept. υἱοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ; Vulg. filii Dei), and in Job 1:6; Job 2:1 (Sept. οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ; Vulg.W& ii .: ),. Dei); for the words so rendered elsewhere in the A. V. are somewhat different (Job 38:7, beney' Elohim, בּנֵי אֵֹלחַי Sept. ἄγγελοί μου; Vulg. fiii Dei: — Ho 1:10 [Heb 2:1], beney' il, בּנֵי אֵל Sept. υἱοὶ θεοῦ; Vulg. filii Dei: — Ps 89:6 [Hebrews 7], beney' elim, בּנֵי אֵלַי Sept. υἱοὶ θεοῦ; Vulg.filii Dei; A. "sons of the mighty"). Very remarkable, however, is the glimpse which we here get of the state of society in the antediluvian world. The narrative, it is true, is brief, and on many points obscure: a mystery hangs over it which we cannot penetrate. But some few facts are clear. The wickedness of the world is described as having reached a desperate pitch, owing, it would seem, in a great measure to the fusion of two races which had hitherto been distinct. Further, the marked features of the wickedness of the age were lust and brutal outrage. They took them wives of all "which they chose;" and "the earth was filled with violence." "The earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth." "And it came to pass when men (the Adam) began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born unto them; then the sons of God (the Elohim) saw the daughters of men (the Adam) that they were fair, and they took to them wives of all that they chose. And Jehovah said, My spirit shall not forever rule (or be humbled) in men, seeing that they are [or, in their error they are] but flesh, and their days shall be a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim were in the earth in those days; and also afterwards when the sons of God (the Elohim) came in unto the daughters of men (the Adam), and children were born to them, these were the heroes which were of old, men of renown." We will briefly review the principal solutions which have been given of the difficulties involved in this passage.
I. Sons of God and Daughters of Men. — Three different interpretations have from very early times been given of this most singular expression.
1. The "sons of Elohim" were explained to mean sons of princes, or men of high rank (as in Ps 82:6, bene 'Elyon, sons of the Most High) who degraded themselves by contracting marriages with "the daughters of men," i.e. with women of inferior position. This interpretation was defended by Ps 49:3, where "sons of men," bene adam, means; "men of low degree," as opposed to bene ish, "men of high degree." Here, however, the opposition is with bene ha-,Elohin, and not with bene ish, and therefore the passages are not parallel. This is the interpretation of the Targum of Onkelos, following the oldest Palestinian Kabbala, of the later Targum, and of the Samaritan Vers. So also Symmachus, Saadia, and the Arabic of Erpenius, Aben Ezra, and R. Sol. Isaaki. In recent times this view has been elaborated and put in the most favorable light by Schiller (Werke, 10:401, etc.); but it has been entirely abandoned by every modern commentator of any note.
2. A second interpretation, perhaps not less ancient, understands by the "sons of Elohim," angels. So some MSS. of the Sept., which, according to Procopius and Augustine (De Civit. Dei, 15:23), had the reading ῎Αγγελοι τοῦ Θεοῦ, while others had υἱοὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ, the last having been generally preferred since Cyril and Augustine; so Josephus, Ant. i, 3; - Philo, De Gigantibus; perhaps Aquila, who has υἱοὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ; of which, however, Jerome says, "Deos intelligens angelos sive sanctos;" the book of Enoch as quoted by Georgius Syncellus in his Chronographia, where they are termed οἱ ἐγρήγοροι, "the watchers" (as in Daniel); the book of Jubilees (translated by Dillmann from the Ethiopic); the later Jewish Hagalda, whence we have the story of the fall of Shamchazai and Azazel, given by Jellinek in the Midrash Abchir; and most of the older fathers of the Church, finding probably in their Greek MSS. ἄγγελοι τοῦ Θεοῦ., as Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Clemens Alex., Tertullian, and Lactantius. This view, however, seemed in later times to be too monstrous to be entertained. R. Simon ben-Jochai anathematized it. Cyril calls it ἀτοπώτατον. Theodoret (Quaest. in Genesis): declares the maintainers of it to have lost their senses; ἐμβρόντητοι καὶ ἄγαν ἠλίθιοι; Philastrius numbers it among heresies, Chrysostom among blasphemies. Finally, Calvin says of it, "Vetus illud commentum de angelorum concubitu cum mulieribus sua absurditate abulide refellitur, ac mirum est doctos viros tam crassis et prodigiosis deliriis fuisse olim fascinatos." Notwithstanding all this, however, many modern German commentators very strenuously assert this view. They rest their argument in favor of it mainly on these two particulars; first, that "sons of God" is everywhere else in the Old Testament a name of the angels; and next, that St. Jude seems to lend the sanction of his authority to this interpretation. With regard to the. first of these reasons, it is not even certain that in all other passages of Scripture where "the sons of God" are mentioned angels are meant. It is not absolutely necessary so to understand the designation either in Ps 29:1 or 89:6, or even in Job 1:2. In any of these passages it might mean holy men. Job 38:7, and Da 3:25, are the only places in which it certainly means angels. The argument from St. Jude is of more force; for he does compare the sin of the angels to that of Sodom and Gomorrha (τούτοις in ver. 7 must refer to the angels mentioned in ver. 6), as if it were of a like unnatural kind. That this was the meaning of St. Jude is rendered the more probable when we recollect his quotation from the book of Enoch where the same view is taken. Further, that the angels had the power of assuming a corporeal form seems clear from many parts of the Old Testament All that can be urged in support of this view has been said by Delitzsch in his Die Genesis ausgelegt, and by Kurtz, Gesch. des AIten Bundes, and his treatise, Die Ehen der Sohne Gottes. It must be confessed that their arguments are not without weight. The early existence of such an interpretation seems, at any rate, to indicate a starting-point for the heathen mythologies. The fact, too, that from such an intercourse "the mighty men" were born, points in the same direction. The Greek "'heroes" were sons of the gods; οὐκ οισθα, says Plato in the Cratylus, ὅτι ἡμίθεοι οἰ ἡρῶες; πάντες δήπου γεγόνασιν ἐρασθέντες ἢ θεὸς θνητῆς ἢ θνητοὶ θεᾶς. Even Hesiod's account of the birth of the giants, monstrous and fantastic as it is, bears tokens of having originated in the same belief. In like manner it may be remarked that the stories of incubi and succubi, so commonly believed in the Middle Ages, and which even Heidegger (Hist. Sacr. i, 289) does not discredit, had reference to a commerce between daemons and mortals of the same kind as that narrated in Genesis. Thomas Aquinas (pars i, qu. 51, art. 3) argues that it was possible for angels to have children by mortal women. This theory, however, must be abandoned as scientifically preposterous. Two modern poets, Byron (in his drama of Cain) and Moore (in his Loves of the Angels), have nevertheless availed themselves of this last interpretation for the purpose of their poems.
3. The interpretation, however, which is now most generally received is that which understands by "the sons of the Elohim" the family and descendants of Seth, and by "the daughters of man (Adam)," the women of the family of Cain. So the Clementine Recognitions interpret "the sons of the Elohim" as "homines justi qui angelorum vixerant vitam." So Ephrem, and the Christian Adam-book of the East; so also Theodoret, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Jerome, Augustine, and others; and in later times Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, and a whole host of recent commentators. They all suppose that whereas the two lines of descent from Adam — the family of Seth who preserved their faith in God, and the family of Cain who lived only for this world — had hitherto kept distinct, now a mingling of the two races took place which resulted in the thorough corruption of the former, who. falling away, plunged into the deepest abyss of wickedness, and that it was this universal corruption which provoked the judgment of the Flood.
4. A fourth interpretation has recently been advanced and maintained with considerable ingenuity, by the author of the Genesis of the Earth and Man. He understands by "the sons of 'the Elohim" the "servants or worshippers of false gods" [taking Elohim to mean not God but gods], whom he supposes to have belonged to a distinct pre-Adamite race. The "daughters of men," he contends, should be rendered "the daughters of Adam, or the Adamites," women, that is, descended from Adam. These last had hitherto remained true in their faith and worship, but were now perverted by the idolaters who intermarried with them. But this hypothesis is opposed to the direct statements in the early chapters of Genesis, which plainly teach the descent of all mankind from one common source.
Whichever of these interpretations we adopt (the third, perhaps, is the most probable), one thing at least is clear, that the writer intends to describe a fusion of races hitherto distinct, and to connect with this two other facts: the one that the offspring of these mixed marriages were men remarkable for strength and prowess (which is only in accordance with what has often been observed since — viz. the superiority of the mixed race as compared with either of the parent stocks); the other, that the result of this intercourse was the thorough and hopeless corruption of both families alike. SEE SON OF GOD.
II. Who were the Nephilim? — It should be observed that they are not spoken of (as has sometimes been assumed) as the offspring of the "sons of the Elohim" and "the daughters of men." The sacred writer says, "the Nephilim were on the earth in those days," before he goes on to speak of the children of the mixed marriages. The name, which has been variously explained, only occurs once again in Nu 13:33, where the Nephilim are said to have been one of the Canaanitish tribes. They are there spoken of as "men of great stature," and hence probably the rendering γίγαντες of the Sept. and "the giants" of our A. V. But there is nothing in the word itself to justify this interpretation. If it is of Hebrew origin (which, however, may be doubted), it must mean either "fallen," i.e. apostate ones; or those who "fall upon" others, violent men, plunderers, freebooters, etc. Some have observed that if the Nephilim of Canaan were descendants of the Nephilim in Ge 6:4, we have here a very strong argument for the non-universality of the Deluge. — Smith. But it can hardly be inferred from these casual references that the name is intended as that of a race. It is rather used in a general way in both passages for burly fighters. SEE NEPHILIM.